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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Francisco Ayala Sees No Real S&R Conflict

The August issue of the HHMI Bulletin, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has a short interview with Francisco Ayala, a professor of biology and philosophy at the University of California, Irvine and a staunch supporter of evolution who has long studied how the topic is taught in public schools. Ayala speaks about evolution and creationism, and addresses the relationship between science and religion:

HHMI: Almost half of Americans, according to recent Gallup polls, say that evolution and religion cannot coexist. Why is evolution so contested in the United States, at least in certain areas?

Francisco Ayala: The United States was largely founded by people who were being persecuted for religious reasons. I think love for religion predisposes citizens in this country toward the perception of a conflict with science. On top of that, the idea is pervasive that science tends to be materialistic.

HHMI: Meaning?

FA: Materialism is a philosophical position, affirming that nothing exists beyond “matter,” that which we can experience with our senses. I would say that science is methodologically materialist: it can deal only with the world of matter. But it is not philosophically materialist; it does not imply that nothing can exist beyond what we experience with our senses, as religion requires. One can accept scientific principles and also hold religious beliefs.
But, many people are ignorant of science and just assume it is contrary to their religion. Of course, the proponents of intelligent design and creationism are also spreading a lot of propaganda. The only way to deal with the problem is education and specifically science education, which is unfortunately lacking, by and large, and not only in this country.

HHMI: Don't most mainstream theologians actually endorse evolution?

FA: Yes. In Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the compatibility of science and religion has long been accepted by most scholars, by most theologians. Pope Pius XII said in 1950 that Catholics should accept what science demonstrates about evolution, while holding that God creates the human soul. In 1996, Pope John Paul II spoke very strongly in support of evolution and the idea that evolution and religion are quite compatible. The current pope, Benedict XVI, says there is plenty of scientific proof for evolution and that it is absurd to assume there is a conflict between evolution and religious faith.


ken.camden said...

This new website is great, especially authors like F.Ayala.
The Creationist attitude has me worried - it could end in a religious schism. We have plenty of good sense from the scientists, but some helpful explanation about biblical scholarship would be very helpful too.

Religion does not consist in a blind acceptance of the Bible; it is about relating to God and other people. The real issues in the Bible are those of love and justice and freedom, not whether Noah really gathered all 20000 species of ant into his ark.

The literal approach to the Bible is always dangerous - it ignores questions of translation and transcription error, as well as the intentions of the writers. My cousin, who has terminal cancer, is not very concerned about Adam's rib, but he is concerned that Christ promised an afterlife for those of honest faith.